A passenger ferry brings two passengers to the Scottish isle of Inverdee; islander Sheila Anderson and an Army Colonel, John Howard, who has chosen to spend some leave there. He sets off from the harbour into the village, where he buys a map at the local general store from pharmacist Fiona Patterson. Also at the shop is her dentist boyfriend, Michael Gaffikin, who is just setting off for a round on the golf course. As Fiona shows Colonel Howard out of her shop, Dr. Symonds, a Canadian ornithologist, comes up asking if she would develop some films and if she could have a look at a faulty camera for him. Leaving the film with her, he sets off back for his camp on the moor. Colonel Howard also takes his leave of Miss Patterson, leaving her to chat with the local police inspector, Inskipp, who has just returned from the mainland himself.
On the golf course, Gaffikin loses his ball during a bad shot and while searching in the brush comes across a dismembered corpse, which is incomplete. On reporting the find to Inskipp, the inspector speculates on the murderer and his motives. Gaffikin returns to Fiona as fog descends over the island.
The police coroner, Dr. Goudry, reveals to Inskipp that the body was torn apart by brute strength, not with a weapon, and even though the identity of the victim has not been proved, it looks possible that it could be Sheila Anderson whose whereabouts have been the subject of local inquiries all day. Inskipp and his Sergeant, Carch, go to her cottage and make a gruesome discovery inside the wrecked building; that of Sheila's severed head.
Goudry asks Gaffikin to examine the bites on the corpse and agrees to make an impression of them. Meanwhile, at his camp, Symonds is dictating notes on his day's findings when the tent is ripped open and something enters, sending his faulty camera flying. As the 'thing' attacks and kills Symonds, the camera fires again and again, capturing his last moments...
The local coastguard station picks up faint radiation traces during the night, puzzling the keepers, and sheep at a nearby farm are found next morning, torn to bits. Gaffikin has finished taking his cast, and the results indicate some sort of marine creature further baffling them.
The coastguards discover further traces of radiation out on the clifftop and also find out that radio transmission to the mainland is being jammed. The island is effectively cut off...
One of the locals reports seeing a flying saucer fall from the sky, from which a man got out and ran away. Sergeant Carch sends a car and finds the 'saucer' is an army parachute, but not a recognisable type. The coastguards alert Carch and Inskipp that they've been unable to raise Symonds on the radio, and going to investigate the officers with Gaffikin come across Colonel Howard heading away from the scene, making Inskipp highly suspicious of the Army man.
Cutting across the beach to Symonds' camp, they find a small craft of unknown origin and a piece of blood-stained equipment. Carch arranges for other men from the station to collect it. At the coastguard station, Gaffikin wonders if, with the radioactivity and the other discoveries, their murderer could be alien. The coastguards show them to Symonds' camp, where they find more radiation, the dead man and his camera and tape recorder.
Back at the village, Carch receives a call reporting a camouflaged soldier in the area. Howard enters to offer his services, and lingers outside long enough to hear about Symonds' murder.
Examining the camera, Fiona discovers the hairtrigger and the finished film and intends to develop it to see if there could be a picture of the killer on it. Dr. Goudry meanwhile, after performing medical tests on the bloodied equipment, returns it to the safely-stored craft, guarded by PC Malcolmson, who informs him that craft is making noises and sounds as if it's 'alive'.
That evening, Malcolmson is knocked out and the equipment is stolen. Inskipp has men patrol the area in case the killer returns to the craft. At his hotel, Howard receives a call from the mysterious soldier, and in the mortuary, Goudry reveals that not only should the killer be dead because of the high white blood cell count in the traces on the equipment, but that from an examination of Symonds' body he has determined the killer is also a cannibal - if human. Playing Symonds' last recording and projecting the slides of the film she developed for Gaffikin, Goudry and Inskipp, Fiona and the men see an over-exposed picture of his attacker, human-like, but uttering a crazed, gutterell screeching.
One of the coastguards, Drummond, hears movement outside the sta tion, and their Geiger counter goes crazy for a moment. His colleague, Campbell, finds that the heating has failed and goes out to check it. Worried that he has been gone too long, Drummond and his other colleague, McGrath, go to investigate, finding him dead. Locking themselves inside the station, they find that far from locking the killer out, they have locked it in - with them. It kills McGrath and advance on Drummond, who fires a maroon at it. Catching fire, it runs screaming from the station as Drummond fires a second into the air. This is seen in town by Inskipp, but is too late to be of help to Drummond; the killer returns and kills him.
Howard, now dressed in army uniform, informs Inskipp that the village is now under martial law, and that the mysterious soldier was, in fact, his man Carey. Carey informs them that other troops will be landing at first light and that their mission is to recover the top-secret military property and, if they can, the killer. Setting up headquarters in the golf course clubhouse, he takes Gaffikin and Fiona there. Meanwhile, Inskipp finds that the island's telephone lines to the mainland have been cut and arranges for a radio link to be established.
The troops land on the beach, and Howard orders them into the village to collect and decontaminate the craft. As Inskipp and Goudry look on while the army take control, Carch arrives with news regarding inquiries he was asked to make by Inskip about Colonel Howard. It appears that Colonel Howard is really in hospital, recovering from a broken hip. The officer is an imposter...
At the clubhouse, 'Howard' unpacks supplies of antitoxin. The craft, known as the Vodyanoi, was equipped with a bio-weapon and if it has been damaged, it may be necessary to immunise everyone. Carey reports that the craft has been removed from the village, but accidentally salutes in the Russian style. Their cover blown 'Howard' , really Kornilov, pulls his gun on Gaffikin and Fiona and finally reveals the full story. The Vodyanoi is a special Russian craft linked directly to its pilot's brain via an implant. Following a collision between it and a British submarine whilst on testing manoeuvres, the Vodyanoi, crippled and saturated with radiation, limped ashore along the island's coastline. With no technician to properly disconnect him from it, the pilot, Genyeva, ripped the implant - the equipment Gaffikin found on the beach - from his head and this has turned him insane, acting on instincts only; the instinct to kill or be killed.
'Carey' reports that the bio -weapon tank has been ruptured and Kornilov starts to administer the anti-toxin. After he has given injections to Gaffikin and Fiona, showing the dentist how to administer them to others, he decides to try and find the crazed pilot. Unfortunately for him, the pilot finds him first. Kornilov is killed by the pilot just as Gaffikin manages to snatch up Kornilov's gun and empty it into the pilot, killing him too. The saga concluded, the Russians remove the bodies and the Vodyanoi from Inverdee, leaving the village and its people to recover on their own.
Over the years, many classic horror and science fiction books have been adapted into short-length serials. Some of the most notable have been The Day Of The Triffids and The Invisible Man. In 1980, the BBC looked for another possible production to fill a four-week slot in the 1981 schedules. Staff producer Ron Craddock was given the task of finding a suitable story, and from the many possiblities he and his production team looked at, they finally decided on Child Of Vodyanoi by author David Wiltshire which had been published only two years earlier.
The job of drafting a teleplay of the novel was never offered to David Wiltshire himself. Instead, it was given to scriptwriter Robert Holmes to dramatise into four, half-hour episodes. This format and the subject matter was well-known to Holmes, as he had written many stories for Doctor Who before this and had been its script editor from 1974 to 1977. The director, Douglas Camfield, was also another ex-Doctor Who man, particularly well-known for the UNIT stories he directed under Jon Pertwee's and Tom Baker's tenure as the Doctor. Given the army presence in this teleplay, it is likely that Holmes was instrumental in suggesting Camfield to Craddock for the position, one which he was eminently suited for besides being an excellent director.
Some changes were made, but all save one didn't raise any real objections with the novel's author as they were mainly changes in name. One change, which may have been made for budgetry reasons, was that the Russian soldiers arrived on the island via boat instead of via helicopter as in the novel. The other change, which Wiltshire didn't like but didn't raise any veto against, was the ending. Originally, the final fight between Kornilov and the pilot Genyeva was set at night in the middle of a forest - possibly a copse off the golf course - which Wiltshire thought was a lot more spooky a setting than the televised version played out on the golf course in daylight. Again, this may have been for budgetry or technical reasons, but it does give an 'amateurish' quality to it when viewed, something which was unusual for Camfield who was known for tight direction even when large numbers of actors or extra were involved . However, despite this change, Wiltshire was still very pleased with the standard of the production as a whole.
Made on location completely on videotape, The Nightmare Man began recording on 12th January 1981 and finished on 6th February. The island of Inverdee's landscape was provided, for the most part, by northern Cornwall, with Port Isaac the main location for the village. Other scenes were also shot around Padstow, with the youth hostel in Tintagel being used as the coastguard station, a location found by Camfield and production managers Graeme Harper and Carol Scott during their recee of the area in December 1980.
The reason for shooting on videotape as opposed to on film on location, which was the norm for part or full-location based serials at the time, was two-fold. Firstly, the use of lightweight portable video cameras were becoming more prevelent in the industry around this time. It would make editing easier and give a uniform consistency to the serial. Secondly, it would allow the Killer's point-of-view to be shot on the same medium and have filters applied to it in post-production which again would match up with the rest of the footage better; trying to get the same effect if some was recorded on tape and some on film would be difficult and could ruin the atmosphere if it didn't come off. Hence, videotape was used for everything, including the titles which were shot through a red filter in the same way as the Killer's POV.
The Vodyanoi itself was a lightweight fibreglass shell with no moving parts, designed by visual effects designer John Brace. The costumes, including that worn by Genyeva the pilot, were designed by Rupert Jarvis. Both were long-standing BBC designers and had worked on both Doctor Who and Blake's Seven. The killer himself was played by stunt actor Pat Gorman, again another Doctor Who stalwart having been inside many a monster suit over the years. His colleague, Terry Walsh, was also hired to performed the stunt falls as the Killer, although why this was done is unknown as Gorman was quite capable of handling his own stunts.
Casting was excellent, with excellent performances from James Warwick, Celia Imrie - in one of her few early dramatic roles - Tom Watson, Jonathan Newth, James Cosmo and Maurice Roeves. Roeves and Newth in particular carry the story especially well.
It was also the BBC's decision to change the title form Child Of Vodyanoi to The Nightmare Man, a more immediately dramatic title intended to hook any wavering viewer. The title, however, was semi-official, as it had been written on Wiltshire's original book manuscript.
The Nightmare Man was very well-received by the press, and also by the public, with many writers to the feedback programme Points Of View considering it one of the most frightening television serials for years. Even so, it has never been repeated on terrestrial television, or released on video or DVD to date, although like The Day Of The Triffids it was due for release in the early 1990's on VHS. Unlike The Day Of The Triffids, which had a release date set, The Nightmare Man didn't even get that far; a great shame.
The Nightmare Man
Transmitted 1st - 22nd May 1981
article copyright PPS / M.Hearn 2001